PROGRAM NOTES for HAYDN’S DIVERTIMENTO IN C MAJOR
Haydn’s Divertimento Hob II:14 is a rarity that, while relatively uncomplicated in musical terms, presents a number of questions that invite informed speculation. The first surprise is the unusual brevity of the five movement work – Allegro, Minuetto, Adagio, Minuetto, and Finale-Presto total about five minutes’ music (provided all repeats are observed!). Next up is somewhat mysterious sourcing, the year of which is uncertain, but considered to be around 1766, with an additional quandary regarding instrumentation: while the piece works quite well with the four known parts, some feel that two parts may actually be missing, suggesting it should actually be a sextet. This discrepancy invites several surmises based upon a few technical observations:
1) The score is notated with no key signature, thus the casual observer infers the key of C major.
2) The suggestion of pairs of clarinets and horns is cast into doubt by certain details of voicing, as well as technical idiosyncrasies unique to instruments of the period (primarily the valveless horns).
3) All extant parts are, in fact, solely based on a style of harmony called “horn fifths” – a product of the horn’s natural overtones in combination, and the primary source of all horn ensemble writing from the earliest days of the instrument. The parts also fit very comfortably within the parameters of Haydn’s known horn writing.
Taken collectively, these observations naturally lead the curious horn player to conclude that the most likely setting is that of the horn quartet. Further experimentation affirms the premise, as the work is shown perfectly suited to common practice of the day, particularly in choice of key – while all early horn music is notated with no key signature, the length of the instrument is the determining factor of the notes (overtones) available, thereby controlling the key of the horn and its resultant tonic registration. This allows the performers to explore various keys in search of a perfect fit. So it is that we present this charming little work as a true quartet for horns, demonstrating not only the compositional appropriateness of these simple instruments, but the compelling musical results allowed by a sophisticated technique of hand manipulation within the bell, inducing tones otherwise unavailable in the pure overtone series. Altogether a fine moment in music and the history of the natural horn!
Telemann’s Die Tageszeiten (The Times of Day) is among the fruits of a remarkable period of artistic rejuvenation during the composer’s old age. Following his return in 1738 from a triumphant eight-month visit to Paris, the disappointing closing of the Hamburg Opera in the same year, and the voluntary dismantling of his unprecedented self-publishing business in 1740, Telemann scaled down his musical activities. The sixty-year-old composer now quietly fulfilled his official duties as City Music Director at Hamburg while taking up gardening, for which hobby he requested rare plants from far-flung friends such as George Frideric Handel in London. For someone who had displayed almost inexhaustible energy over a four-decade career, this qualified as semi-retirement. But upon entering his mid-seventies, Telemann embarked on a series of large-scale cantatas and oratorios to texts by the youngest generation of German poets, men who could easily have been his grandsons. The poetry of Christian Wilhelm Alers (1737-1806), Johann Andreas Cramer (1723-88), Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803), Carl Wilhelm Ramler (1725-98), and Justus Friedrich Wilhelm Zachariae (1726-77) lit a fire beneath the “alte Noten-Held” (old musical hero), as one young musician referred to him at the time.
Zachariae’s Die Tageszeiten, a series of four lengthy poems published in 1756, strongly reflect the influence of English pastoral poetry. His reverence for Telemann’s music is clear from a passage in “Der Abend” (Evening), where he singles out the composer for special praise: “Telemann, no one but you, you father of holy composition, whose splendid song is admired by the Gauls themselves, is able to delight the chorus of angels with earthly tones.” It must have been in 1756 or 1757 that Zachariae provided Telemann with the pastoral-sacred librettos for four cantatas (inspired by, but distinct from, the poems), each of which includes two arias and a central recitative. The musical settings also include concluding choruses, but because these texts do not appear in the libretto as published in Zachariae’s Poetische Schriften (1764), we may suppose that Telemann authored them himself. The cantatas were first performed on October 20, 1757 at a public concert of the composer’s music in Hamburg’s Drillhaus, the exercise facility for the city’s civic guard that doubled as a concert hall.
Telemann scores the cantatas for solo voice and an orchestra of flutes, bassoon, trumpet, and strings. As the Sun traverses the sky, the vocal timbres gradually darken: soprano for morning, alto for noon, tenor for evening, and bass for night. The journey begins with a musical sunrise at the beginning of the sinfonia, where an unharmonized, middle-register “horizon pitch” leads to increasing rhythmic activity in the upper strings and a corresponding registral ascent. This move from darkness to light plays out again in the following two movements, the first featuring a halting, low-lying melody over a plodding accompaniment, and the second an energetic, higher-lying melody with a more vigorous accompaniment.
The sinfonia’s musical chiaroscuro prepares us for the natural and spiritual journey from darkness to illumination in the first cantata, Der Morgen. In fact, each of the “sunrise” figures (rising arpeggios, trills, rapid triplets, and fanfare-like rhythms) reappear in the first aria and recitative to illustrate rejoicing, sparkling jewels, pomp, the golden hours’ dance, and brilliant war trumpets. The trumpet adorns the first aria to suggest the Sun as heavenly king presenting itself to the people. This celebratory mood continues during much of the recitative but finally gives way to more serious songs of praise to God as creator of Sun and Earth. The second aria (marked Ernsthaft; Serious) reverses this rhetorical shift, with the minor-mode first half invoking the almighty’s greatness in both radiance and darkness before a momentary turn to major mode for nature’s exultation in God. The concluding chorus is a joyful peroration, once again welcoming morning while invoking nature.
In the first aria of Der Mittag, the intense midday Sun provides a cornucopia of natural riches, while the west winds offer relief from the heat. Telemann’s expression marking of Mässig (Moderately) reflects the “middle” style of the music – an ingratiating, song-like idiom that is neither particularly elevated nor overly earthy. Relief from the midday Sun is also provided by the forest, as we learn in the following recitative, where the orchestra breathes musical life into the murmuring brook, blowing wind, humming bees, and echoing shepherd’s horn. The recitative concludes with a message of Enlightenment morality: resist the excessive pride, greed, and phoniness common among urbanites and instead seek solace in the countryside. In the second aria, the breezes of the first two movements now cool religious ecstasy (a metaphor for the blazing Sun) as kings and shepherds unite to honor the Lord of creation. Telemann writes a lovely hymn-like tune for the alto, who is delicately accompanied in the aria’s A section by an obbligato viola da gamba and pizzicato strings. The fiery Sun itself is the object of rejoicing hymns in the final chorus.
To this point, Telemann has largely resisted the temptation to balance the pastoral nature of the libretto with conventional emblems of musical rusticity. But in the first aria of Der Abend, he adds a pair of flutes to the string ensemble; the shepherds of Der Mittag now take up their pipes for the first time since morning. Evening’s descent inspires cascading melodic lines, just as the rising Sun inspired upward movements earlier in the cycle. But the sun is not the only thing falling: back in the forest for the recitative, downward trickling water and the lulling west wind causes us to fall asleep and dream. Our eyelids become heavy in the second aria (marked Schlaftrunken; Drowsily, literally “drunk with sleep”), and we have trouble maintaining our equilibrium as the music begins off-tonic with cadential chords that sound more like an ending than a beginning. The halting melody of the tenor suggests that he, too, is gradually nodding off to a pious slumber. As the Sun sets and the day concludes, the fugal chorus offers another song of praise to the creator.
The shadows that have populated each of the preceding cantatas finally envelop us in the first aria of Die Nacht. Telemann evokes darkness both tonally (minor mode) and timbrally (bassoon doubling the vocal bass), while the quiet of a sleeping world and reverence for the creator is embodied by a bare melody and a stark, repeated-note accompaniment that suggests the quiet ticking of a hall clock or the gentle chirping of crickets magnified by night’s stillness. We learn in the recitative that night also brings feelings of loneliness and thoughts of death. Yet tolling funeral bells soon give way to radiating consolation (a fluttering motive portraying the angels’ flapping wings). Next a brief arioso on “dass er unsterblich ist” (that he is immortal) strongly recalls the melody to “fall ich hin in den Staub” (I fall down in the dust) in the first aria. This subtle musical link underscores the theological message of salvation through faith; that by kneeling in the dust before the creator, one’s soul achieves immortality even as the body itself turns to dust. Darkness and thoughts of mortality are banished in the heroic-sounding second aria (marked Aufgeweckt; Alert, literally “awakened”), where the eternal morning of salvation promises the aroused soul a blissful state. To conclude this most spiritual of the four cantatas, Telemann begins the chorus in hymn style, shifting to a rousing fugue when the subject moves from God to the earthly realm.
JEAN-MARIE LECLAIR (1697-1764)
Scylla et Glaucus, suite d’orchestre
Jean-Marie Leclair l’ainé (the elder, so called because he had a younger brother of exactly the same name six years his junior) was born in Lyon in 1697; by the time he was nineteen, he had mastered violin-playing, dancing and lace-making. He danced for a time in the company of the opera at Rouen (meeting his first wife there), but then went to Paris, where the publication of his first book of violin sonatas caused a sensation. One contemporary notes that he was the first composer who could, “without imitating anyone, create something beautiful, something new that he can call his own.” Subsequently, he worked in Turin and absorbed the Italian style as well.
Leclair was officially recognized by Louis XV in 1733 with the title of ordinaire de la musique du roi, and the following year he dedicated his third book of violin sonatas to his royal patron. He separated from his (second) wife about 1758 and purchased a small house in a dangerous part of Paris. He was stabbed to death on his doorstep late one evening in 1764. The police investigation was a thorough one, given the fame of the victim, and they considered two principal suspects: the gardener, who discovered the body, and a nephew with whom Leclair had fallen out. Nicolas Slonimsky proposed Leclair’s estranged wife as the culprit on the grounds that she, as a professional engraver, was fully at home with sharp tools, but this seems to be a case of the detective trying to astonish his audience by producing the least likely suspect as the culprit. Leclair seems to have been an argumentative man, willing to give offense rather than apologize. But his music is joyful and lively, with colorful harmonies and wide-ranging melodies.
Leclair’s output was largely limited to instrumental music, and especially works for violin. But he did write a single opera, Scylla et Glaucus, based on incidents in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The opera plot recounts the love of the beautiful Scylla for Glaucus, the sea god. She is changed into a monster by Circe, her jealous rival. Premiered on October 4, 1746, it received eighteen performances. On the whole its reception could be described as “polite,” possibly because Leclair was far better known – and indeed, more experienced – as a composer of instrumental rather than vocal music. Leclair himself later arranged Scylla et Glaucus’s overture for two violins and continuo in his Opus 13. As with all French opera of the day, Scylla et Glaucus is filled with instrumental numbers of varying character and length to allow for dances, changes of scene, or dramatic moments of action, such as the descent of Venus from the heavens, or a violent symphonie during which Circe reveals to Glaucus Scylla’s tragic fate.
The orchestral suite presents the instrumental numbers, primarily the dances, of the opera.
© Steven Ledbetter